Want to be the Best in Your Field? Stay Uncomfortable

Jan 24, 2019

By Jon Gordon

What sets super successful people like Tiger Woods, Oprah, and Bill Gates apart from the rest of us?  They never rest on their estimable laurels.  Instead, they continuously seek new ways to learn and grow, and they relentlessly drive themselves to improve.

Here’s a fact you may find surprising: Tiger Woods, Oprah, and Bill Gates are uncomfortable.  They have fame, power, influence, and more money than most of us could ever imagine. So why don’t they live lives of blissful ease and endless fun? The answer is simple: it's because they are the best at what they do—and the best are never comfortable with where they are.

People who are the best in their industry or sport have an ongoing, burning desire to improve, and this naturally creates a healthy discomfort.  Winners like Woods, Oprah, and Gates are always seeking new ways to learn and grow, and the process is rarely fun and easy. Highly successful professionals display a relentless drive toward constant improvement.

In my new book Training Camp I explore what it takes to rise to the top of your game—whatever that game may be. To begin, I’d like to dispel some common myths about winners. Buying into those myths can hold you back from achieving your own brand of success.

Myth #1: The best are privy to some “secret formula.”
Reality: There's no secret recipe to success. The art is in putting the recipe's ingredients together. The best take action every day and do the common things with uncommon focus, dedication, and a commitment to excellence. They know what they want and they want it more than anyone else. The best are willing to pay the price that greatness requires. For example, great salespeople do the same things mediocre salespeople do. They just do them with more focus and consistency. The same principle holds true for entire companies.

Myth #2: The best are "born that way." They are “chosen for greatness.”
Reality:  The best become the best through their own actions. Many, many people have "potential," but only a few ever bring it to fruition. They do this through hard work and "zoom focusing" on the often ordinary and boring fundamentals of their particular jobs until they master them.

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell discusses a study done in the '90s at Berlin's elite Academy of Music that found what separated the virtuoso violinists from the good and average performers was not talent but rather the amount of time they practiced throughout their lives.  By the age of 20 the best performers had practiced for a total of 10,000 hours, compared to 8,000 hours for good performers and only 4,000 hours for average ones.

Some people call this the 10,000-hour rule.  Others call it the 10-year rule, because it is believed that it takes a decade of practice to become great at something. It's clear the best aren't born that way. The best must commit to a lifetime of practice to be their best.  

Myth #3: There is a huge gap between the best and the rest.
Reality:  Actually, the gap is very small. In baseball, consider the difference between a .250 batter and a .350 batter. If you calculate 162 games a year, 4 or 5 bats a game, the difference between a .250 batter and a .350 batter is only 1.7 hits a week. It's the little things that separate the best from the rest. So the best are not that much better than their competition. They are just a little bit better at the important things.

Do you know what makes Walmart so successful?  It's not just the low prices. It's the fact that they do a hundred things 10% better than everyone else. That 10% may not seem like much, but it puts Walmart miles ahead of the competition.
MYTH #4: The best know no fear.

Reality: The best do feel fear; they simply learn to overcome it. Too many people allow their fear of failure to define them and their actions. (Consider the potential entrepreneur, unhappy in her job, who says, "I would start the company I've always dreamed of, but this economy is just too scary; I'd better not risk it.") But the best face their fears and overcome them.  They don't allow the possibility of failure to define them. As a result they are able to seize the moment and move beyond their fear.

When all eyes are watching, the best know this is the moment they have been preparing for.  Rather than hide from the pressure, they rise to the occasion. As a result, the best define the moment rather than letting the moment define them.

Don't run from fear; face it and embrace it. Let it inspire you to live and work each day as though it was your last.

Myth #5: The best focus on winning.
Reality:  Ironically, to create success you must not focus on success itself, but rather on the process that produces it.  A great example is Organic Valley, a provider of organic dairy products, produce, meats, and other natural foods.  Each year they continue to grow dramatically and yet they don't have an “outcome” goal in mind. Rather they focus on their purpose and process and this fuels their growth.

Myth #6: Success breeds success.
Reality: Actually, too often, success breeds complacency. Coaches and business leaders often dread success more than they dread failure.  A team will have a successful season or a player will have a great year and when they come back the following season they think all they have to do is show up and they'll enjoy the same results, forgetting it was the hard work, focus, and process that helped them create their success. The moment you think you have arrived at the door of greatness is the moment it gets slammed in your face.

The true key to success is to continue to innovate, offer new products and services, improve customer service, and stay one step ahead of your competition. Stay humble and stay hungry.

Concluding thoughts
If you want to be the best at what you do, never rest on your laurels.  Remember that people who make it to the top of their fields stay uncomfortable. If you want to be the best—and to continue to be the best—forget past glories. Focus on growing, improving, and innovating today.

About the Author(s)

Jon Gordon Jon Gordon is a speaker and consultant and is the author of The Energy Bus: 10 Rules to Fuel Your Life, Work and Team with Positive Energy and The No Complaining Rule: Positive Ways to Deal with Negativity at Work.  His latest book is Training Camp: What the Best Do Better than Everyone Else (Wiley, 2009).  For more information, visit www.jongordon.com